Every time we delve into a new focus subject of design theory we are building a bank of literacy and thoughts for ourselves. We move forward with a longterm memory of the concepts and ideas that the authors present, and we can cognitively input the knowledge into the work we do now and in the future.
However, some of these more complex ideas are quite hard to grasp and I’ve found that it is harder to fit the confusing ideas into a mental toolbox to access later. In response I have found it to be a good challenge to dig into my personal memories and identify wicked problems that existed around me far before I knew about ill-structured problems were.
When I was in K-12 I went to inner-city Minneapolis public schools. The schools that were situated in more privileged neighborhoods had far better reputations and performance than the schools in tougher neighborhoods. The standardized education system simply was not built to accommodate a diverse society and the social landscapes that it lives in.
The Minneapolis district was bussing a limited number of kids from the low-income neighborhoods to the better schools. The district was trying to tame—create a well-structured problem—out of an irreducible ill-structured problem. They could even sell it as “diversifying the classroom,” and this would benefit the locals from the neighborhood and the students getting bussed in—full disclosure, the kids who were local to the high performing high schools were primarily caucasian and the kids being bussed from other areas were primarily African American and latino.
In retrospect the whole thing sits uneasy with me. And I decided to examine it through the lens of the authors we’ve read these last two weeks.
I aim to talk about the touch points of redefining the problem I was witnessing as a student, examining where the faults are, and asking why the education system is ill-equipped to handle transformation.
I have organized a sequence of how to examine the problem based on the authors we’ve read and the insights I’ve pulled from them (ISP stands for ill-structured problem).
Herb Simon is the author that speaks most directly about ISPs.
By looking at Simon’s identifications of an ill-structured problem we are able to clarify that fair access to quality education is most definitely an ISP.
Simon defines that there are two types of problem solvers and one of them solves things that are already real, and the other solves for ideals. Pacione hones in on defining who these people are and clarifies why designers are good candidates for complex dilemmas.
Pacione compares masters—a subject expert trained to solve well-structured problems—with virtuosos—those that can drop in to problems and work around their ambiguity.
The next three authors draw us a picture of what techniques designers use in complex projects.
In a nutshell, designers enter a problem space/opportunity spaces and use abductive reasoning and lateral thinking to explore all hypotheses and prototype different solutions. Wyatt most clearly lays out the design thinking cycle of inspiration, ideation, and iteration.
Redefining the problem is a technique, but in the case of public education and most ISPs it is also a huge obstacle.
In redefining the problem statement you have to ask deeper questions about the context of the current state problem. Can you get to a positive end goal by solving the problem as stated? This can spiral upwards and outwards as you start to see symptoms of other problems. How does a designer iterate when the consequences of a failed project can have lasting negative effects?
Finally, ideas from all of the authors would support the introducing some capacity of design education in school.
Each has their own specification of what is most important about design education.
I really appreciate this quote as it demonstrates that it is the designer’s responsibility to initiate something that is sustainable and lasting. Teach the people to fish instead of fishing for them.